A Striga (also stria, strix) is a blood-drinking night spirit of classical antiquity, which became known as a witch in folklore. The striges (plural) were said to be terrible women who could turn themselves into dreadful birds of prey, with huge talons, misshapen heads and breasts full of poisonous milk. Like the lamiae, and succubi, they preyed upon unprotected sleeping men and children. With men, they turned into women, had sexual intercourse, then drank the men’s blood. To children, they offered their poisonous milk. They were associated with screech owls, birds of sorcery whose feathers are used in magical spells in classical myth.
Ovid proposed three theories as to the origin of striges: they were born that way; they were enchanted; they were hAgs who had been put under a spell. Petronius claimed that striges were wise women of the night who possessed the power to overthrow the natural order of things.
After the fall of the roman Empire, striges endured in folklore, and the term became low Latin for “witch.” As Christianity spread, the striges, along with other pagan spirits, became associated with Demonolatry. The Synod of rome in 743 outlawed offerings to such spirits. In 744 a “List of Superstitions” drawn up at the Council of Leptinnes renounced “all the works of the Demon . . . and all evil beings that are like them.” Various laws were passed forbidding belief in striges and other pagan spirits, such as one in Saxony in 789, which punished such belief with execution.
By the middle Ages, the striges were identified in Christianity as servants of Satan and his Demons. They were defined as women witches who practiced sorcery and flew through the air. The striges’ association with screech owls gave rise to the term owlblasted, which referred to the effects of a wasting-away spell cast upon a man (see blAstIng). This expression remained in popular use in Britain through the 16th century.
- Lea, Henry Charles. Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1939.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.